Thousands homeless in cyclone-battered Sri Lanka
A powerful cyclone left thousands of Sri Lankans homeless after thrashing the island, off the southern tip of India, with high winds and heavy rains for two days. Cyclone 04B swept across central Sri Lanka on Tuesday (December 26) cutting a wide swath of destruction from Tirukkovil to Trincomalee on the northeastern coast. Early reports estimate the damage to be even worse than Sri Lanka's devastating cyclone of 1978, which killed approximately 1,000 people.
As well as an estimated 75,000 homeless, thousands of other people "on the east coast between Trincomalee and Tirukkovil as well as on the west coast between Mannar and Puttalam" have been affected. At least five people are dead and several fishing boats are reported missing. According to some reports, nearly half a million people fled their homes in fear of the storm and took shelter in schools, churches, temples and shopping centers. Those whose homes weren't destroyed are being encouraged to return.
Relief teams have been distributing food and assistance to families housed in temporary shelters in northern Sri Lanka. The government was handing out rice to those still stranded, and state-run radio appealed for donations. The Sri Lanka Red Cross has already launched a huge operation in response to the disaster with 4,000 volunteers helping those worst affected.
The Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society Ervin Bulathsinghala praised the rapid response of local volunteers. "The efficient way in which the local Red Cross branches have reacted to the cyclone is in part due to the tremendous work we have done on disaster preparedness," he said.
"Our effective operation also shows the value of having people always on the ground in the communities, which is one of the true strengths of the Red Cross" articularly when communication is difficult," he added.
The storm's heavy rains swelled dozens of rivers over their banks, flooding roads and crops, and high winds snapped power and communication lines. The government-owned Sri Lanka Telecom said it lost hundreds of telephone posts and cables because of downed trees, and state media reported that large areas were without power.
Beyond phone and power problems, immediate reports of the destruction were still sketchy because the brunt of the cyclone hit areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels, who are battling the Sri Lankan government for a separate homeland in the country's north and east. Rebel-controlled areas of northern Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya were hit hardest by the cyclone.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched a preliminary appeal for 525,000 Swiss francs (about US $323,000)-funds that will be used to assist 10,000 people with shelter, kitchen utensils, clothing and blankets.
The Federation released 100,000 Swiss francs (about US $61,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund within hours of the cyclone to immediately start the operation.
The humanitarian organization is currently cooperating with the National Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to assess the most urgent needs.
The American Red Cross is also monitoring the disaster. "We have been closely following the situation, working with the Red Cross Movement to provide assistance to our sister Red Cross Society in Sri Lanka," said Barbara Wetsig, regional associate for the American Red Cross International Disaster Response Unit.
After pounding Sri Lanka, the cyclone moved north into India early Thursday (Dec. 28). Packing winds of 80 mph, the storm dumped heavy rains on the Tuticorin region of Tamil Nadu state. There was little damage and no reports of casualties, however.
Tuticorin is 335 miles southwest of Madras, the state capital. On Wednesday (Dec. 27), rains flooded parts of Rameshwaram, a temple town in the Ramanathapuram district.
Last month, a cyclone ripped across Tamil Nadu state in southern India, uprooting trees and blowing off roofs. Seven people died.
Last year some 8,495 people were killed and 13 million left homeless when a severe cyclone, accompanied by 18-foot tidal waves, devastated the eastern state of Orissa.
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